When Should Ministry Be Staffed?
What areas of ministry should be taken from volunteers and given to a staff person?
It’s tempting to answer that question by saying “anything that needs to get done.” Yet think for a moment of all the dangers that staff pose to gospel ministry in a local church. When staff do ministry,
- it can communicate to the congregation that “real” ministry belongs in the hands of trained professionals, and that gospel work is out of their league.
- it can decrease the urgency a congregation feels to do ministry themselves.
- ministry can increasingly depend on staff. Over time, the great mass of ministry need in the church can far outstrip staff capacity, and the entire structure may break down under its own weight.
- if the staff stares into the abyss of unmet spiritual need in a congregation, they risk burning out, since they see themselves as God’s means for meeting those needs.
- the staff may not only deprive other church members of the joy of doing that ministry themselves, but deprive the congregation of a key tool for building unity.
THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATION FOR STAFF
Should we therefore fire all of our staff? I’d suggest not.
While the New Testament emphasizes ministry by every church member (e.g. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4), some key passages provide a framework for determining when staff positions are prudent:
1. When possible, preachers should be staff.
First Timothy 5:17 tells us that “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” The reference to “the worker deserves his wages” in the next verse makes clear that by “double honor” Paul is referring to financial support. We see the same idea in Galatians 6:6.
Ideally, a church should be able to pay its most gifted teachers to relieve those men of the need to find employment outside the church. Given Paul’s focus in the pastorals on teaching others both corporately and individually (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:2, 2:2), it would seem he envisions these paid elders teaching beyond the pulpit.
2. Make provision to keep the preachers from being distracted by other necessary tasks.
Notably, the reason the first deacons were chosen was to address a unity issue that was distracting the apostles from the ministry of the Word of God (Acts 6:2). While this principle applies most directly to deacons in a local church, it also has relevance to church staff. That is, a church may decide to hire staff to handle the kinds of matters which would distract the church’s preachers from their main work.
3. The job of church leaders is to equip church members to do ministry.
A third principle is seen most clearly in Ephesians 4:11-13. There we learn that Christ gave various types of leaders to his church “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…”
Two items are worth noting here. First, the “ministry” of the church is being done by the entire congregation, with leadership in an equipping role. Second, when the leaders equip the whole congregation for ministry, the result is unity and maturity. It is good and right for the ministry of the church to be performed by the entire church, not merely paid staff.
JOB DESCRIPTIONS FOR CHURCH STAFF
Putting these three principles together gives us two different “job descriptions” for church staff:
- Some staff should be gifted teachers we set aside from secular employment to develop this gift for the edification of the church. This is a clear application of 1 Timothy 5:17 and Galatians 6:6.
- Some staff can be individuals who support these men so that they are not distracted from their primary work of preaching and teaching. This applies the priorities seen in Acts 6:2 for churches that have money to fund more than one staff position. These supporting staff essentially function as paid deacons—and can range from an executive pastor to a music ministry assistant. In doing this work, these supporting staff are to facilitate ministry by the congregation (Eph. 4:11), not to take that ministry away and do it themselves. Supporting church staff do not exist to “professionalize” ministry but rather to facilitate ministry by ensuring that necessary matters of logistics, maintenance, and so on are done capably and efficiently to promote unity within the congregation.
Of course, all of this is subject to the financial constraints that exist in every church. The Great Commission gives every local church the dual priorities of making disciples in their own community and of preaching the gospel to the nations. Neither job will ever be completely finished this side of heaven, and yet both are to be our priority. So we should never fund staff who meet needs in our own community that feel very real, at the expense of neglecting our responsibility to the nations—where gospel need, though no less urgent, is easier to ignore because it is so removed from us. Nor should we be so missions-minded that we neglect pressing needs in our own congregations. That would destroy the engine of disciple-making that is our best hope of reaching the nations.
SOME QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOU
With these principles in mind, here are some questions to guide you in thinking about staffing:
- Consider your staff one by one. Are they merely doing ministry, or are they equipping your congregation for ministry? Even the Sunday morning preacher is there primarily to equip. Restructure any jobs that have become focused on doing ministry with little or no focus on equipping others for ministry. This can be a particular challenge for staff positions that involve community service or evangelism.
- Is your church budget in line with the priorities of the Great Commission? Are you over-emphasizing the ministry needs of your own community? Or shortsightedly hobbling your church’s disciple-making in the name of outreach?
- Is your congregation confusing facilitating gospel ministry with gospel ministry itself? Cleaning the church bathroom is ministry if we “work as unto the Lord.” But from the perspective of eternity, would more be gained by hiring a janitor and directing those volunteer hours to evangelism or teaching or care for hurting church members?
- Would your congregation step in to do the jobs of your staff if they were all laid off? Or have you artificially increased the importance of some ministry-related activities by locking them into your church budget as staff positions? In your church, there is a “free market” of Spirit-filled, Scripture-taught Christians who are all making time-value tradeoffs against a variety of God-given priorities. This provides an assessment of where to invest time and energy that should not be overlooked. Sometimes a congregation is sufficiently immature that its assessment of what is important should be overlooked. But generally, if an activity is not important enough to get done if the staff position were eliminated, it is likely not important enough to get done at all. This can be a particular challenge for staff positions dealing with music and other aspects of the Sunday service.
CASE STUDIES ON TIMING
One of the challenges facing a senior pastor or board of elders is determining exactly when a new staff position is needed. How do the three Biblical principles laid out above help answer the timing question? The examples below serve as case studies in this regard.
1. Hiring an Associate Pastor
An associate pastor serves in two different roles: he teaches the congregation (1 Tim. 5:17) and he supports the main preaching elder so that he can teach well (Acts 6:2). As such, assuming money is available, churches should hire an associate pastor for at least two reasons—for the sake of the fruit and for the sake of the need. Sometimes, churches might decide to hire one of their own members to become an associate pastor simply because he has proven so fruitful in unpaid ministry that the church wants to pay him full-time to be even more fruitful.
Yet sometimes churches might hire an associate pastor because of the need. It may be that the main preaching elder is struggling to care for both the congregation and his own family because the congregation is growing. It’s true that all the elders (paid and unpaid) should work to care for the congregation, but a church might decide that the level of need warrants someone full-time for the task. An associate pastor helps ensure that neither teaching, nor congregational care, nor a pastor’s own family fall through the cracks.
2. Hiring a Pastor for Evangelism
Many Christians find evangelism uncomfortable, and yet are guilt-ridden about the lack of it in their lives. For that reason, hiring a pastor for evangelism can be a high risk proposition. On the negative side, some church members might feel that such a hire frees them from their responsibility to share their faith since they have hired someone to “do it for them.” On the positive side, a good pastor for evangelism can facilitate this ministry in a congregation.
If a congregation is reluctant to evangelize, the first thing it needs is sound teaching both in public and in private. As such, I would suggest that a church not hire a pastor for evangelism until evangelism is already hardwired into the congregation’s DNA through the teaching of the Word and the work of the Spirit. At that point in time, if additional facilitation of this vital ministry is needed, such a hire might make good sense. The same thought process would apply to other ministry areas that congregations would gladly—but mistakenly—hand off to staff, like youth ministry or mercy ministry.
3. Hiring a Facilities Manager
If a church owns a building, facilities management is important—and excellence in this area can greatly facilitate the ministry of a local church. Unlike for the prior example, Christians in no way share a responsibility to clean the church toilets like they do for evangelism. So there is little spiritual danger in hiring a facilities manager.
If you have a building, hiring a good facilities manager should be a priority as soon as it is financially prudent. By caring for church infrastructure, this staff member will enable both pastors and church members to focus their time more effectively on the ministry and fruit of the Word.
4. Hiring a Director of Children’s Ministry
Sometimes the timing of a staff hire has more to do with church unity than logistical burdens, and this is often the case in children’s ministry. If support staff are essentially paid deacons, as I’ve said, then their primary role is maintaining church unity. That was the case with the first deacons in Acts 6 who were appointed because a logistical issue was threatening the unity of the church.
As pastors know too well, children’s ministry is rife with opportunities for disunity. While it is tempting to deal with these threats to unity by “professionalizing” the ministry and handing it in its entirety to staff, this is neither biblical (Eph. 4:11) nor is it often very practical given the sheer number of adults needed to run a children’s ministry.
As such, as a first step in managing children’s ministry, a church will likely appoint a volunteer deacon for this role. Over time, when this responsibility exceeds the capacity of a volunteer deacon, a church will want to create a staff position—not to do the ministry, but to facilitate it—who manages logistics to protect the unity of the church. The trigger in hiring is when the logistical work required to protect unity has outgrown the capacity of even the most dedicated volunteers.